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When Cartoon Characters Sell Your Kids on Junk Food

Author: Oksana Aron, MD Source: Weight Loss NYC Sep 8, 2010

Junk food is not only a hotly-debated topic between moms and children, it's a topic of interest to scientists as well. Researchers at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity wanted to find out how popular cartoon characters on the packing influenced children’s snacking preferences, and the results they published in Pediatrics in June are eye-opening.

40 children between the ages of 4 and 6 involved in the study were given 3 pairs of snacks (graham crackers, fruit gummy snacks and carrots). Each pair of snacks was identical -- except the packaging, which either had cartoon characters on it or not.

The children were then asked which snacks they liked better, and food items with the cartoon characters were mostly preferred, even though both choices were the same. When presented with the carrots, however, the children weren’t as swayed by the veggies with cartoon characters on them.

The findings then urged the restriction of using cartoon characters to advertise unhealthful junk food items to children. It’s also a wake-up call to parents to pay closer attention to such snack items aimed at children with their beloved characters on them.

Below are more food and obesity facts regarding children reported in the study:

• Obesity rates for children between ages 2 and 5 have more than doubled since the 1970s; among 6- to 11-year-olds, rates have more than tripled.
• Food and beverage companies spend more than $1.6 billion in advertising per year targeting young consumers.
• Based on the findings, children perceived the food items with licensed characters to taste better than those that came in plain packaging.

Source: NYTimes.com, YaleRudderCenter.org

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